As elucidated in Shuowen Jiezi ( the first dictionary in ancient China, compiled by Xu Shen, a Han Dynasty scholar), the Chinese character “Bao” resembles a pregnant woman. Vitality of human being originates from infant who is born of parents. The etymology of “Bao” is subject to the character component of “Bao” itself.
Since a prominent feature in “Bao” is the character’s resemblance to pregnancy, it was originally defined as “placenta” and extended to be “package”. For instance, the poem “Dead Deer in the Wilds,” Guofeng (Airs of the States), the Shijing (Classic of Songs) states that there is a dead deer in the wilds wrapped up in cogon grass. “Bao” also has another meaning of “contain and tolerance”, Mengxibitan ( Brush Talks From Dream Brook by Shen Kuo, a Northern Song Dynasty scientist) explains that numerous peaks of Yandang Mountain are well seated in valleys. According to Shuijingzhu Heshui (Commentary on the Water Classic by Li Daoyuan, a Northern Wei Dynastry geographer), saying river encompassed by mountains flows along, “Bao” means “surround” here.
Transforming into a noun, “Bao” denotes bag, e. g. a school bag or luggage, packaged goods such as a packet of medicine or parcels, and steamed food with stuffing, e.g. vegetarian-filled Baozi & Tang Baozi, which is probably the most popular Chinese cuisine in the world.
Legend has it that “Baozi” ( steamed filled bun) emerged during the Northern Song Dynasty, which is verified by Yanyiyanmoulu ( the work is mainly about institutions and regulations in Song Dynasty and elaboration to success and failure of reform, by Wang Yong in Song Dynasty), saying “Baozi” are bestowed on civil and military officials to celebrate Emperor Ren Zong’s birthday. “Baozi” is annotated to be entitled “Mantou” ( steamed bun) as an
alternative name. Nevertheless, it is known to all that the so- called “Maotou” in Northern Song Dynasty refers to fermented steamed stuffed food while the one without stuffing is called “Cuibing” (steamed cake). Up to now, there still prevails the appellation of “pork- filled Baozi,” “vegetarianfilled Baozi,” and “Shengjian mantou” in many areas of Southern China, which are all, in fact, filled with stuffing.
It is recorded in Duchengjisheng ( the work describes local conditions and customs in the city of Lin An, Southern Song Dynasty, by Nai Deweng in Southern Song Dynasty) that “all are called bistros, except for state- owned hotels and wineshops, private restaurants, and inns. Food served with wine is also for sale in these eateries, where the menu was accessible to whose who were in need of a ready- made meal. Baozi restaurant sometimes sell such specialties such as Eya Baozi, Sise Douzi, Changxuefengeng, Yuzi, and Yubai, which are all in great demand.” As mentioned in Duchengjisheng, one particular Baozi restaurant in Lin An dominated, whose major product was goose & duck meat filled baozi. Apparently, “Baozi” has
been widely available since then.
It is misleading to believe that Baozi, a simple and palatable diet, is unique to China. On the contrary, it is also prevalent in other countries and regions influenced by longstanding ties to Chinese culture in places such as Mongolia, Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines.
The reason why December of 2013 witnessed the sudden rise in popularity of Baozi is that President Xi ate at the Beijing Qingfeng Baozi Restaurant.
At noon of Dec. 28 , President Xi paid 21 yuan for a portion of pork- filled Baozi, fried pork liver, and mustard at Beijing Qingfeng Baozi Restaurant Yuetan Branch on the way to his office, which rapidly got spotlighted. Consequently, key words like “Xi Dada”, “Qingfeng”, “pork- scallion filled Baozi”, “fried pork liver”, “mustard”, and “21 yuan” overwhelmed the Internet. Moreover, a great many people came there specially for the same service. Affection for Baozi instantly spread throughout the nation.
What manifests President Xi’s wisdom is not his choice in the Beijing Qingfeng Baozi Restaurant, but his detour from “niche food” to avoid the potential “civil war” between foods like jellied bean curd, moon cake, zongzi ( pyramidshaped dumpling made of glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo or reed leaves), tangyuan( stuffed dumpling made of glutinous rice flour served in soup), jiaozi ( Chinese dumpling), laba porridge ( rice porridge with beans, nuts and dried fruit, eaten on the eighth day of the twelfth lunar month), and soya milk. This is the intelligence and foresight and perspective that a national leader should possess. Furthermore, baozi also plays a pivotal role in the unification of the country. That is the message from Weibo. We are impressed by netizens’ profound perception of trivial matters like a small baozi. The trending of baozi is to be continued.
On January 5 , 2014, People’s Daily carried the briefing of various Baozi such as Shanghai Xiaolongbao, Tianjin Goubuli Baozi, Chendu Hanbaozi, Shenyang Changlebao, Wuhan Yuxiangbao, Guangdong Chashaobao, and Yichun Dabaozi.
Do you think this brings an end to the story of Baozi? If yes, it seems you underestimate foodies. Netizens came to debunk the honour roll of Baozi in People’s Daily once it was released.
Wuhannese: Yuxiangbao is nothing but filling fish-flavored shredded pork into Baozi. I prefer to Qishuibao.
Shenyangnese: We have never heard of Changlebao; where does that it come from?
Yichunnese: We have lived in Yichun for over two decades, but have no idea what they mean by Yichun Dabaozi.
We can surely embark on a never- ending gastronomic tour of Xiaolongbao from Changzhou and Suzhou, followed by Wuxi, all of which are far beyond Shanghai Xiaolongbao.
Travelling across thousands of years, Baozi, distinguished itself as a solid and homely diet. It manages to satisfy and enrich our meals and stomachs, although it fails to stand out in a feast.